Labor Dispute Disrupts Bus Service in Prince William

trafficTransportation related issues are one of the biggest concerns facing residents of Prince William County. Looking back to the 2017 election, her almost obsession with figuring out a way to “fix 28 and innovate” is one of the main reasons Danica Roem was elected to the House of Delegates. As her laser like focus on transportation has continued now that she’s in office, her dedication to it has earned praise her from people on both sides of the aisle. That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising that other local candidates are weighing in on disruption to bus service in Prince William due to a contract dispute between First Transit and the union representing bus drivers.

The buses usually take about 7,000 trips everyday up and down 95 and 66 as folks make their way into downtown DC and locations like closer to the city like the Pentagon. OmniRide officials had hoped for an extension of the current contract for bus drivers from the end of July to the end of September, but they found out on Tuesday that members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) rejected the proposal and have gone on strike.

OmniRide has attempted to minimize the impact on commuters by continuing service, but on a modified schedule. Anybody who’s used public transportation in Northern Virginia during rush hour, however, knows the commute can be hectic even in the best conditions imaginable. Decreased service will therefore add an extra layer of complications for people simply trying to deal with the horrible commute times facing the region.

Kenny Boddye, the Democratic nominee for the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in the Occoquan district, seems to understand this as he said it’s a “serious problem” considering “two-thirds of our county’s working population commuting elsewhere for work.”

But this is an issue that’s larger than just the commute and Boddye says we not only have to make sure the bus drivers are paid fairly, but that he’ll “ensure that we seek alternatives to First Transit so our bus drivers are treated fairly” if he’s elected to the county board. One idea he hinted at for solving the issue was bringing the bus drivers onto the “county staff so we have better oversight into how they are treated.”

This is clearly a different approach then the Republican leadership in Prince William County has been taking on the issue and Kenny was quick to highlight this. After joining the bus drivers demonstrating outside OmniRide headquarters early yesterday morning, he made it clear he disapproves how things have been run in recent years.

“It’s important to talk about how we got into this situation in the first place. Our current and past County Supervisors have only sought to pave our way out of our traffic crisis, refusing to make real investments in transit,” Kenny said in a statement this morning. “That forces us to use sub-par contractors like First Transit. Contractors that obviously do not value our bus drivers.”

“On top of that – due to lack of leadership by the current Chairwoman of the Omniride Commission – we have been blindsided by a contract dispute which has been brewing for months. She has been asleep at the wheel, and Prince William families are paying the price.”

This is an issue that will likely be receiving a lot of attention if the strike continues. Not only does it impact the general public’s commute, but it also represents the struggle for Prince William residents to earn a respectable wage that allows them to live in a county with such a high cost of living. Housing costs has been a frequent topic of conversation in Northern Virginia and one of the reasons traffic is so bad in NoVA is folks keep moving westward to places like Prince William and beyond so they can find an affordable place to live. In other words, this labor dispute ties into two of the major issues facing Prince William and it’ll be hard for local officials to ignore what’s going on.

So far, the labor dispute has only impacted one day during the “normal” work week so it’s hard to say how much the modified bus schedule is inconveniencing commuters. Especially since it was a Friday commute that was impacted, commuters haven’t had to deal with the limited service for multiple days in a row and now have the weekend to forget about it. If the bus drivers stay on strike through the weekend and people have to seek alternative weighs to get into work, however, it will be interesting to see how the greater community feels about the negotiations.

About Bryan J. Scrafford

Bryan Scrafford grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and stayed in the region for both college and his professional life. An avid baseball and hockey fan, Bryan's also involved with several advocacy organizations fighting for economic justice, LGBT rights, and other issues. You can follow him on twitter at @bscrafford and Instagram at @bjscrafford
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